Estonia

Consolidated Democracy
85
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 84.52 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 6.07 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
85 100 Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Independent Media rating declined from 6.50 to 6.25 to reflect growing concern over editorial independence in some media outlets, as well as increased incidents of verbal harassment that journalists faced from members of the ruling coalition.
  • As a result, Estonia’s Democracy Score declined from 6.11 to 6.07.

header2 Executive Summary

By Liisa Talving

Estonia’s fundamental democratic institutions continued to work well in 2019. The governmental system is predominantly stable, electoral processes function efficiently, the media are largely free from political and corporate influences, and the rule of law is applied effectively. Large legislative initiatives, such as pension reform, were put forward during the year yet faced obstacles from governing coalition members as well as from the opposition. This conflict was emblematic of a reorientation of political power that bent—but did not break—Estonia’s strong institutions of national democratic governance and the judicial framework. The shift of political power was met with strong counter-reactions in other areas, such as civil society. Additionally, corruption continued to be a subject of concern in the country, in both the public and private sectors.

The most consequential political development in 2019 was the inclusion of the populist, far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) in the coalition government in March after the Estonian Reform Party, the winner of the general elections, failed to form a government. EKRE more than doubled its vote share compared to the previous general elections in 2015 (from 8.1 to 17.8 percent). While the party’s populist agenda is poorly represented in the coalition agreement—with assurances voiced by the two mainstream coalition partners that EKRE’s tendentious ideas would not be put into practice—its political rhetoric is heavily conservative, inward-looking, and nationalist, undercutting Estonia’s progressive and liberal reputation. The year witnessed a variety of scandals associated with EKRE, and the party’s leading figures frequently issued racist, sexist, and homophobic statements. EKRE verbally attacked the media, demanding that liberal journalists step down, and the junior partner attempted to undermine the independence of democratic institutions by seeking to dismiss public officials the party disliked.

While most of these endeavors proved fruitless, they did, however, help EKRE stay in the spotlight and consolidate its support, causing rifts within the government and sparking serious concerns both at home and abroad over democracy and rule of law in Estonia. Throughout the year, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas was forced to constantly apologize for EKRE’s actions and words, while being widely perceived as unable to control or discipline the junior partner. With the prime minister’s position depending on EKRE’s remaining in the coalition, the party exercised considerable leverage in the government. Despite an array of scandals, and with Estonian politics becoming significantly more polarized in 2019, the governing coalition managed to remain mostly homogenous in parliamentary voting. The party system remains institutionalized and stable, and there is no reason to expect a significant increase in electoral volatility in the near term.

Protests against EKRE, its radical views, and its status as government partner came in many forms during the year. The shaky start to the governing coalition’s electoral term led the opposition to put forward a vote of no confidence against the prime minister in August, which failed from insufficient support. Most prominently, President Kersti Kaljulaid was openly critical of EKRE and its controversial statements. Kaljulaid wore a sweater emblazoned with “Speech is Free” to the swearing-in of the new government to express her support for press freedom, and walked out of the oath-of-office ceremony for an EKRE politician who faced domestic violence allegations. In an interview with Foreign Policy, the head of state, who in Estonia has little executive power, said she “hates” EKRE for its behavior and apologized for the image of Estonia the party might give to the world.1 Public dissatisfaction was also expressed in the form of grassroots activism, from weekly demonstrations outside the government office to the launch of a social media movement, “Kõigi Eesti” (“My Estonia Too”), which quickly gained nearly 30,000 followers on Facebook and brought together 10,000 people for a concert promoting democratic values and freedoms on the historical Song Festival grounds.

In 2019, Estonia continued to recover from the reputational damage caused by massive money laundering in Estonian branches of Danske Bank and Swedbank that came to light in 2018. The investigations are still underway but have already led to Danske ceasing its operations in Estonia and Swedbank firing several top executives at its Tallinn branch. In the meantime, suspicions over money laundering emerged around SEB, another Nordic bank in Estonia. Corruption also continues to be an issue in the political sphere. In the largest political corruption trial of recent years, the Estonian Center Party was found guilty of using hidden financing schemes and received a large monetary punishment, a serious blow to a political party already under severe financial pressure. While former Center leader Edgar Savisaar was released from the trial in 2018 due to poor health, hearings continued for the party codefendants.

The governing coalition is likely to remain in office, although it will face challenges in pushing through controversial legislative proposals, such as the pension and pharmacy reforms. Societal debates will carry on in the fields of immigration, the environment, and social affairs. The current political culture seeks polarization and antagonism, rather than broad-based consensus, potentially reducing the quality of government decisions. The country’s largest political parties will face continued financial troubles, and tight monitoring of party finances will be required to prevent corruption. Media ownership remains concentrated and lobbying is unregulated, casting doubts on media transparency. At the same time, the quality of democracy in Estonia remains high, and ongoing political rifts are unlikely to drastically alter the fundamental structure of the country’s democratic governance.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 6.006 7.007
  • Although Estonia’s mainstream politics showed marked shifts in 2019, the state of the country’s national governance registered only minor notable changes. Still, inclusion of the populist, far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) in the government significantly moved the country’s political rhetoric from liberal, progressive, and international towards conservative, inward-looking, and nationalist, causing alarm both at home and abroad.
  • EKRE, which won 19 out of 101 seats in the March 3 parliamentary elections, had been expected to do well at the ballot box, yet it came as a surprise to many that the far-right party was invited to help form the governing coalition. In a “remarkable failure of mainstream politics,”1 two mainstream liberal parties, Reform and Center, failed to cooperate in forming a government. Refusing the offer from the victorious Reform Party, the incumbent Center Party launched its own negotiations, and after lengthy consultations succeeded in signing a coalition agreement on April 8 with the moderate right-wing party Isamaa and the far-right EKRE.
  • Popular support for the prime minister’s Center Party took a hit immediately after the decision to form a conservative governing coalition, and the party lost large portions of its traditional Russian-speaking voter base.2 As a result, Center faced a defeat in the European Parliament elections in May, where its vote share of 14.4 percent stood in stark contrast to its 23.1 percent share in the general elections less than three months prior.3 By late 2019, however, the party’s popular support had recovered back to the March election levels.4 Center Party still remains the leading preference for Russian-speaking Estonians.5
  • The remainder of the year witnessed the emergence of aggressive and polarizing political rhetoric,6 forcing the two mainstream coalition parties, Center and Isamaa, to constantly apologize for their far-right partner’s statements and make public reassurances that EKRE’s radical campaign agenda would not be put into practice in Estonia.7 Time spent discussing and solving these coalition rifts weakened the government’s effectiveness in 2019.8 EKRE was also associated with a variety of scandals that caused a whirlwind of negative attention in Estonia and abroad. The incidents ranged from party leaders flaunting a hand gesture associated with white supremacy at their swearing-in ceremony9 to the party’s European Parliament representative being accused of endorsing Nazi ideology.10 In May, EKRE hosted a visit from the far-right French politician Marine Le Pen.11 Within the first eight months of the coalition government, as many as three EKRE ministers were forced to step down amid various scandals.12 In December, a vote of no confidence was put forward but failed against Interior Minister and EKRE chairman Mart Helme, who had openly derided Finland’s new government and prime minister in a manner that “degraded women and people of various social backgrounds.”13
  • EKRE’s radical agenda is not heavily present in the coalition agreement, which assures the promotion of a cohesive and tolerant society and condemns hatred between nations, xenophobia, and polarizing rhetoric. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has frequently emphasized that the country will continue on the pro-European course. Still, EKRE holds 5 out of 15 ministerial positions and has scored several policy deals, the most prominent being an agreement on the country’s wider use of referendums. The party is hoping to use this measure to hinder the legalization of same-sex partnership.14
  • As a counterweight to EKRE, a vote of no confidence was put forward by the opposition in August against PM Ratas, accusing him of not taking responsibility for the junior partner’s words and actions. The initiative failed to gather enough support to pass.15 Notably, President Kersti Kaljulaid was openly critical of EKRE’s aggressive approach and parochial, undemocratic views, and expressed her concerns over media freedom amid the fast-changing political climate.16 It is uncustomary in Estonia for the president, who largely fulfills symbolic functions, to actively involve themselves in daily politics.
  • One of the government’s most substantial decisions in 2019 was initiating a systemic pension reform—Isamaa’s chief campaign promise—that will give individuals more freedom in making pension-related decisions; however, the plan was criticized for ignoring long-term risks, including increasing fiscal burdens on future generations.17 Center Party’s chief electoral promise to institute a substantial pension hike also made it into the 2020 state budget, albeit more modest than expected.18 In October, despite the government’s initial reluctance, especially from EKRE, Estonia joined 24 fellow European Union member states in setting 2050 as the target year for achieving climate neutrality across the EU.19
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 6.507 7.007
  • Elections in Estonia continue to be free and fair. The country’s electoral laws function well, election authorities are impartial, and voters are offered a wide range of political platforms and possibilities to choose from.1 Estonia is a world leader in voting via the internet, with 43.8 percent of all votes now being cast online. Remote internet voting is structured around a unique, highly developed national system of ID cards that enable secure authentication online—an innovative system used by Estonians on a daily basis for a wide range of services, not just for voting. However, despite a broad range of options available for how and when to vote, the overall participation rate continues to be a concern, with voter turnout of 63.7 percent in the 2019 general elections2 and 37.6 percent in the European Parliament elections.3 Stateless permanent residents, those who have not obtained citizenship in Estonia or any other country (less than 6 percent of the population4), may vote in local but not national elections.
  • The legal framework for parliamentary elections has undergone recent revisions, including amendments to the Election Act in 2017. Some of these changes stemmed from the administrative-territorial reform completed that year; others concerned the structure and responsibilities of election management bodies, refinements to internet voting regulations, and modifications to complaints and appeals procedures. Amendments were made to the Population Register Act in 2017 and 2018, which impacted aspects of voter registration.5 Changes have also been made in the Electoral Law that concern the allowed length of the campaign period and exposure of political ads on election day, although the latter has since been reversed.6
  • In 2019, Estonia held two elections, the general elections on March 3 and the European Parliament elections on May 26. The March elections were contested by 10 political parties and 15 independent candidates. The proportion of female candidates ranged from 46.4 percent for the Greens to 19.2 percent for Isamaa. Issues of taxation, healthcare, and pensions dominated the campaigns.7 Conservative values, possible cooperation with EKRE, and the long-debated “Russian question” (that is, integration of the post-Soviet Russophone minority into Estonian society) were also discussed. The overall voter turnout was 63.7 percent.8 Although the opposition Estonian Reform Party won the elections, garnering 28.9 percent of the vote and 34 out of 101 seats in the Riigikogu (parliament), the governing coalition was ultimately formed by the second-, third-, and fourth-largest parties: Estonian Center Party (23.1 percent), Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE, 17.8 percent), and Isamaa (11.4 percent). The populist, far-right EKRE more than doubled its vote share compared to 8.1 percent in the last general elections in 2015.9
  • The European Parliament elections in May took place in the aftermath of the general elections, which had resulted in a conservative governing coalition. Nine political parties and five independent candidates competed. The campaigns focused on domestic issues but were characterized by their low intensity and a lack of funding following on the heels of the national elections.10 Voter turnout remained at 37.6 percent, indicating the electorate’s low interest in the European elections. The two parliamentary opposition parties, Reform Party and Social Democrats, were the main winners, with 26.2 and 23.3 percent of the vote, respectively. The incumbent Center Party received only 14.4 percent, a failure when compared to its 23.1 percent share in the general elections just three months earlier.11
  • Internet-based voting, which has been available for all eligible voters since 2005, reached a new record in 2019 with 43.8 percent of all votes being cast online in the general elections12 and 47.2 percent in the European elections.13 This signals strong trust in Estonia’s remote internet voting system and suggests that internet voting is now part of a regular electoral process.14 There is, however, a clear partisan divide in attitudes towards e-voting. Center Party, under previous leadership, had initially opposed e-voting, but the party has favored the method since 2016. EKRE, on the other hand, remains highly critical, calling e-voting untrustworthy and a “lottery,”15 and suggesting that election results might not be valid.16 In July, the minister of foreign trade and information technology (EKRE) summoned a working group to assess the effectiveness of e-voting,17 but no results had been released by year’s end.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 6.256 7.007
  • In Estonia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can register easily and almost always operate freely and without harassment.1 The nonprofit sector is sustainable overall, but financial viability for individual groups remains an issue. While public funding constitutes the main source of support for civil society organizations (CSOs), funding opportunities have not adapted to the sector’s growing needs, and organizations continue to depend on volunteer work.2 About 53 percent of NGOs use volunteers, and 49 percent of the Estonian population have participated in volunteer work.3 On the flip side, NGO funding was made more transparent by abolishing the Gambling Tax Council and instead distributing funds through ministries.4 The Active Citizens Fund was also launched, which will provide €3.3 million from 2019 to 2023 to Estonian CSOs through open calls for proposals and other measures.5
  • Estonian civil society witnessed a notable surge in activity in 2019 in response to the dramatic shifts in the political realm. Throughout the year, various grassroots movements emerged to protest the populist, far-right EKRE’s joining the government. In March, just two weeks after the general elections, the social media movement “Kõigi Eesti” (“My Estonia Too”) was launched. Funded by private donations, the movement has no party affiliation and was put forward by a “group of concerned Estonian people” from all walks of life, including numerous well-known figures and influencers. The initiative quickly gained nearly 30,000 followers on Facebook, more than any other movement or political party in Estonia.6 In April, Kõigi Eesti organized a concert to promote Estonia’s democratic values and freedoms, which drew over 10,000 people to the historical Song Festival grounds7 and reached another 70,000 viewers online and via television.8 In August, the group hosted a series of discussions at the annual Opinion Festival,9 and in September, it held a “hackathon” for programming and software enthusiasts to develop practical solutions to pressing issues threatening democracy.10 Since then, the Kõigi Eesti movement has continued to monitor and speak out about political developments in the country.
  • Other large grassroots initiatives in 2019 included the citizen movement “Yes to Freedom, No to Lies,” which held numerous marches and protests; the group gathered weekly to demonstrate outside a government building, and it organized a September rally calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ratas.11 Estonia’s academic community held a march in May12 and a strike in June13 after the government reneged on its promise to increase research and development funding. Estonia has also joined the international climate movement “Fridays For Future,” holding weekly school strikes to protest the lack of action on addressing the global climate crisis.14 Additionally, the civic movement “Estonian Forest Aid” regularly speaks out against deforestation in the country.15
  • Illiberal social movements were also active in 2019, albeit to a much lesser degree. On February 24, Estonian Independence Day, EKRE and its youth organization Blue Awakening held a yearly torchlight procession that was estimated to have attracted several thousand participants.16 Small pickets occurred throughout the year in support of the government. The initiative “Eestlaste Eesti” (“Estonia for Estonians”) was launched in March in reaction to “Kõigi Eesti” and gained close to 8,000 followers on Facebook, but remained mostly inactive during the rest of the year. In October, EKRE members and supporters protested the LGBT+ community by crashing their events in Pärnu17 and Tartu.18 EKRE also accused the social affairs minister of providing public funding to the Estonian LGBT Association,19 although the accusations did not affect government policy on the matter.
  • Trade union membership is low in Estonia, and unions are absent from large parts of the economy.20 In 2019, however, trade unions managed to secure a deal with employers to increase the minimum wage.21
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 6.256 7.007
  • Journalists in Estonia are largely uninhibited in their work, but media ownership is highly concentrated, potentially undermining media autonomy. One of the two dominant private media owners, Margus Linnamäe, is a member of the conservative Isamaa party and has been criticized for his interference in the editorial process of Postimees, Estonia’s largest daily newspaper. Reporters Without Borders expressed concerns in July that five of the newspaper’s section editors had resigned or been forced to resign in the past year because of “Linnamäe’s attempts to turn Postimees into a propaganda mouthpiece for his conservative and nationalist opinions.”1 Examples include changing the newspaper’s motto to “We stand for the preservation of the Estonian people, the Estonian language, and the Estonian culture through the ages,” as well as appointing lead staff and introducing content that promote a conservative worldview.2 In November, Postimees editor-in-chief Peeter Helme was forced to resign after journalists accused him of curbing freedom of speech, censoring content, and pushing a conservative editorial position.3 To a certain extent, Helme’s resignation could be seen as a democratic triumph, suggesting that the free media in Estonia cannot be easily muzzled. The conflict at Postimees culminated in December with the departure of nine leading journalists and investigative reporters, signaling their loss of confidence in the newspaper’s management. This led Reporters Without Borders to express extreme concern “for the future of independent journalism in Estonia.”4
  • Throughout the year, ruling coalition member EKRE verbally attacked liberal journalists that the party considered biased, and insisted that they be taken off the air.5 Debates on media freedom in Estonia escalated in the spring when two well-known journalists resigned from outlets after being told by management to tone down their criticism of the new governing coalition. In April, liberal radio commentator Ahto Lobjakas resigned due to demands by the Estonian Public Broadcasting board that he self-censor after his critical comments on the conservative government.6 In the same week, respected journalist Vilja Kiisler left her position at Postimees due to differences with the editor-in-chief over her critical views on EKRE and its leaders.7 These events prompted President Kaljulaid to wear a sweater emblazoned with the slogan “Speech is Free” to the new government’s swearing-in ceremony.8
  • Although one-third of Estonia’s population is Russian-speaking, local Russian-language media remain relatively weak, having to compete with the Russian Federation’s powerful media outlets for audiences.9 Among the most popular non-national TV stations are First Baltic Channel (14.8 percent of daily share), RTR-Planeta (11.7 percent), and NTV Mir (10.1 percent), with Estonia’s only Russian-language channel ETV+ lagging far behind (1 percent).10
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 5.756 7.007
  • Following Estonia’s successful nationwide administrative-territorial reform in 2017, which decreased the number of municipalities from 213 to 79, local governments have been settling into their new configurations. While many changes are still underway related to local authorities’ decision-making power and finances,1 analyses thus far indicate that the reform has improved the organization and competency in delivering public services in many of the merged municipalities.2 However, a clear vision is still lacking on how to enhance the fiscal autonomy of local governments, and how to distribute powers and responsibilities between the central government and municipalities.
  • The capital Tallinn witnessed changes in leadership in 2019, after former mayor Taavi Aas (Center Party) resigned in order to take his seat in the Riigikogu in April. Although also elected to the parliament, former city council chairman Mihhail Kõlvart (Center Party) took over as mayor of Tallinn.3 Kõlvart is the first Russian-speaking mayor of the Estonian capital. He came in second among all candidates in the 2019 general elections, attracting 24.4 percent of the vote in a district with a high concentration of Russian speakers.4 Over the course of the year, Kõlvart actively spoke out on protecting Russian-language education in Estonia.5
  • In September, Mayor Kõlvart announced the shutdown of Tallinn Television, a 24-hour channel providing municipal information, with plans to move some of the programming to other channels. Showing a 1.4 percent daily market share in September 2019,6 Tallinn Television was launched in 2011 by Center Party cofounder and former capital mayor Edgar Savisaar, and was often criticized for serving as a mouthpiece for the party and its city government.7 Tallinn Television ceased broadcasting on October 1, 2019.8
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 6.507 7.007
  • Despite attempts by governing coalition members to undermine the independence of the judiciary, Estonia’s judicial framework and independence remained strong in 2019. According to the European Union Justice Scoreboard, Estonia ranks second among member states in the EU’s 2019 justice system comparison thanks to the efficiency and speed of its judicial system.1
  • The country also ranks high for its IT solutions in this area, which have significantly improved the functioning of justice by allowing people to submit electronic appeals, follow the progress of a judicial proceeding, and by allowing courts to disclose necessary information to all involved.2 Estonia is among the EU member states with the highest percentage of women in the judiciary.3 The country’s lower-ranking categories include interactive tools targeted at citizens, and total expenditures on courts.4 Still, Estonia has increased its judicial system funding in recent years, mainly by expanding the budget allocated to courts.5 In September, 68 percent of the population trusted the country’s legal system, exceeding the EU-28 average of 52 percent.6
  • During its time in government, EKRE has regularly criticized the Estonian court system and emphasized the need for political intervention. A major attempt to undermine the independence of democratic institutions occurred in August when two leading EKRE figures and cabinet ministers, Mart Helme and son Martin Helme, sought to dismiss the director general of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), Elmar Vaher.7 Their demands for sacking the police chief proved unsuccessful, but the scandal brought the country to the verge of a government crisis, resulting in a vote of no confidence brought against Prime Minister Jüri Ratas. The initiative did not gather enough support to pass.8 EKRE did succeed in obstructing the reappointment of Prosecutor General Lavly Perling,9 managing to bring unprecedented political attention to the process of appointing the Prosecutor General and raising alarm over the politicization of the post. Concrete concerns have not materialized, however, with the new appointee, who is considered politically neutral and esteemed by juridical experts.10
  • The prison population has continued to decrease over recent years, but Estonia still has one of the highest national incarceration rates in Europe (210 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants).11 The 2019 report by the Council of Europe’s antitorture committee noted positively that there is no physical ill-treatment of detained persons by police officers in Estonia, but the committee expressed concerns about the lack of progress improving the conditions of detention, namely, “the continued practice of holding remand prisoners in police establishments, as well as the regime provided to remand prisoners in detention houses and prisons and the frequent and prolonged recourse to solitary confinement in prison.”12
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 5.255 7.007
  • Over the past several years, significant political corruption cases have reached the courts in Estonia, demonstrating the independence of law enforcement from political power.1 In a 2019 report by Basel Institute on Governance, Estonia showed the lowest risk for money laundering among 125 countries examined (measuring only the risk of money laundering, not actual amounts).2
  • Despite these high ratings, Estonia gained international attention in 2018 with two high-profile money-laundering scandals in the banking sector. In 2019, the full scope of the Danske Bank and Swedbank money laundering was still under investigation. Reports from the Prosecutor General’s office suggest that Danske’s involvement in illicit transactions between 2007 and 2015 could be over $2 billion.3 The Financial Supervision Authority ordered Danske Bank to cease operating in Estonia,4 and formal investigations were set in motion that have resulted in arrests of a number of employees of the Tallinn branch.5 In September, the former director of Danske Bank Estonia, Aivar Rehe, took his own life, though Rehe was not a suspect in the Danske money-laundering case.6 In October, the Financial Supervision Authority opened proceedings against Swedbank to ascertain whether a misdemeanor offense in anti-money laundering compliance had taken place.7 In November, suspicions over money laundering emerged around SEB, yet another Nordic bank in Estonia.8
  • An ongoing trial began in 2019 regarding a large-scale corruption case in which former managers of the Port of Tallinn were accused of money laundering and accepting bribes between 2005 and 2015 amounting to nearly €4 million.9 The state has a stake in the Port of Tallinn, but the company has recently been publicly listed for investment.
  • A majority of corruption offenses take place in the public sector (59 percent); of these, 10 percent concern the municipal level, often including elected officials (60 percent).10 The most anticipated political corruption case of recent years, against former Tallinn mayor and Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar, was ongoing at year’s end. Savisaar was released from trial in 2018 due to poor health, but Center Party, which is on trial as a legal entity, pleaded guilty to hidden financing schemes and received a punishment of €275,000.11 Trial hearings for the codefendants in the case also continued. In 2019, city council members in Narva12 and Pärnu13 were also suspected of or charged with corruption.
  • Concerns over political corruption were raised by the government’s unexpected decision in October to reverse the country’s long-planned pharmacy reform, aimed at curbing the monopolistic abuses of large pharmaceutical companies over pharmacies. This move serves the interests of several businessmen—including Margus Linnamäe, owner of Estonia’s largest daily, Postimees—who recently made large financial donations to government parties.14 The pharmacy reform has been subject to long debate and controversy, with attempts to abolish it, and with both the governing coalition and the opposition now proposing amendments to the bill.15 The reform is set to enter into force from April 1, 2020.

Author: Liisa Talving, PhD, is a Research Fellow in Comparative Politics at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia. Her areas of research include electoral studies, voting behavior, and public opinion.

Note

The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

On Estonia

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  • Global Freedom Score

    94 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    94 100 free